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21 January 2014

Kitsch. It’s very much alive and well.

Why emulation isn’t (kitsch, or so alive and well).

I will be speaking on The Challenge of Emulation (An Antidote to Pastiche) at the INTBAU College of Traditional Practitioners conference in London on February 17:

Pastiche and Kitsch are out there, they are real, and classical artists and architects should worry about them. They seem to flourish in a culture seduced by both technology and realism:

Why are these supposed marvels of digital manipulation, to my mind at least, pointless, saccharine and just plain awful? Is it the music? The chirping birds? The choice of Bouguereau? The 19th century paintings generally? Arguably those paintings, with or without the digital manipulation, are already kitsch. But techno-kitsch is the modern version. It fits right into our engrained predilections for realism, sentimentality, and titillation. Our emulative culture ended partly because art became industrialized and replicable: blame Josiah Wedgewood, or Sévres. Combine that with Romantic sentimentalism, a rather base penchant for realism (“You can see every hair on her head!”), and a growing sense that anything digital is good, and you get hyper-real, sentimental, pseudo-classic art. We marvel at technical achievement. We seem to have a limited capacity to appreciate the nuances of manmade imperfections, the multi-sensory aspects of a phenomenal world, the notion of critical distance—no matter how verisimilar—that Old Master classical art establishes between us and the subject. What, in the end, ever happened to taste?

And hasn’t anyone read Umberto Eco’s “Travels in Hyperreality”? Or didn’t they get it? I find all digitally-generated imagery kitsch—architects’ “renderings,” cgi filmmaking, Photoshop collages—because they feign reality in such a naïve way. Bernini, instead, knew that his remarkable portraits in marble could never (despite what his acolytes said) re-present their subjects. He said himself that if we covered a person in white powder (made them look like marble) we wouldn’t recognize him or her. He simultaneously strove for remarkable verisimilar rendering of flesh in stone, and acknowledged that, in the end, we are still looking at a block of marble worked into an image.

The producers of kitsch—and they are now legion, empowered, and seemingly undeterable—don’t recognize that their screens are not paintings, their digital images are not substantial, or that there is some value in acknowledging the presence of an actual medium—as the painter who favors brushstroke does vis-à-vis the canvas.

Kitsch is the industrialization of tradition. Its antidote is craft. Its nemesis is emulation, not imitation, of venerable Masters.

For a dose of poetic reality, watch Roberto Benigni pay homage to Dante. Brilliant.

And for a slightly different take on what’s wrong with the 3D digitizing of paintings, from Jonathan Jones:
A new film animates classic artworks by Caravaggio and others to try and shake them out of passivity. But isn't that where their power lies?